It's a mugs game

10th January 2003 at 00:00
It's an issue that clearly divides the profession like no other: whose turn is it to wash the coffee cups? When Mike Kent wrote about the nasty organisms growing in his staffroom sink he received a bulging postbag full of sympathy and ruthless solutions. So how do you keep the crockery clean?

Forget performance management, Ofsted, target setting. The real issue of the day for teachers isI who's washing the staffroom cups? Matters of major importance such as this receive scant attention from government task forces, but if the DfES wants to rush a team on a fact-finding mission to the Bahamas to give the matter some thought, I'll willingly head it.

When I confided in you that my otherwise marvellous staff have one weakness - nobody seems keen on washing cups or cutlery - I offered a book token for the best solution. I expected a handful of replies but I was swamped, the volume of mail indicating that cup washing, or the lack of it, is a countrywide staffroom problem. Se n Lang of Cambridge wins with his suggestion that I gather my staff together in the staffroom, "then let in a delegation of pupils to view the kitchen area. If anything is going to shame the staff into doing the washing up, that will." Se n admits it's a bit drastic and that I'd be a brave man to try it, "but I bet it would work". Here's a selection of your other suggestions, with my PSRs (predicted success ratings).

Name and shame

As any child will tell you, nobody likes being "shamed up". Marie Folland from Northampton suggests each key stage has a week's sink duty at a time, and the duty teachers have to wash the cups at the end of the day. Woe betide anyone who forgets - they'll have to endure the shame of seeing their name writ large upon the staffroom noticeboard.

PSR I'd probably forget which key stage it was this week. Or forget to put the name of the errant teacher on the board. And, given my teachers' sense of humour, they'd rub the name off and substitute someone else's. Probably someone not even on the staff. When my chair of governors, who has a boat, put up a note asking if anyone fancied a sailing weekend, Barnacle Bill, Morgan the Pirate and Captain Hornblower all expressed an interest.

Grant an amnesty

So says Ruth Cooper from Durham. You know the kind of thing: you have one week to hand in your weapons. Or, in this case, to scrub your cups, remove them from the sink, and put them neatly on the shelf. After the amnesty period, any left should be thrown away, sold, or given to local community groups who don't mind drinking from a motley mug assortment.

PSR Pretty drastic stuff. It could show the staff that you've become a hard-headed manager overnight, or it could prompt those teachers who love a tussle into sending you bills for their "save the whale" mug which cost a fortune at the Friends of the Earth party - and which you've just passed on to the Townswomen's Guild.

Write a rota

Many readers suggested this. Rosemary Sherry from Stevenage says: "Each year pair take charge of kitchen clearing for a week. Try putting a list of the teachers, in year group pairs, on a large piece of paper. Laminate it, and put it near the sink." Rosemary says she even hangs a clip-art tea cup by her classroom door when it's her go, just to remind her.

PSR It's so blindingly obvious, isn't it. A rota! Why didn't I think of a rota? Why didn't my trusty deputy think of a rota? I'm seriously questioning my own competence. I mean, if I can't even dream up the idea of a rota, what possible chance have I got with studying performance indicators for tracking smart targets, or remembering what I'm supposed to do with my autumn package? I might go round the back of the bicycle sheds and stick my head in a bucket right now.

Don't write a rota

Lots of readers suggested this, too. Theresa Quinn, one of the many who replied by email, says you can draw up rotas till your wrist locks up with cramp, but staff simply forget it's their turn. In no time at all the sink is bulging again. "A dishwasher is great," she says. "It gets rid of the hideous stains and new lifeforms that spawn rapidly when a cup has been standing on the window ledge for half a term."

PSR Great idea, but who pays? (Maybe Hotpoint will. See our competition, right.)

Bring in the experts

Employ elves, lots of readers said. Rather a seasonal suggestion, I thought. They're fast, quiet, and work through the night, so they won't get under your feet during school time. They're also good at making shoes, apparently.

PSR I left notes asking available elves to come and see me after school. Not one turned up. I can only assume they're getting a decent wage working for Santa.

Use those children

"When I was a youngster," says Diana Ball, "washing staff cups and saucers was done by the girls, while the boys put the dining tables away. I don't see why it wouldn't work now, especially if a couple of biscuits are left out for the workers."

PSR Hmm. When I started teaching, I remember being concerned that Mrs Giddings sent two of her Year 6s out to do her weekly shop. I can picture the scenario today, as Mr and Mrs Everybody inform you they've consulted a solicitor about your suggestion that Susan might like to carry the playground duty teacher's cup to the staffroom.

Confiscate the lot

"First thing on Monday morning," says Bob Gough, "say that, as health and safety officer, you wish to avoid litigation arising from illness due to unsanitary mugs, and are therefore replacing them with the paper variety, which must be disposed of after use."

PSR Too many big words for a Monday morning, Bob. And what's the betting that the paper ones leak and scald the ample thighs of Mrs Beenhereforyears? The litigation could still be heading my way.

You need a tidiness monitor

"Having people wash their own cups is a typically male solution," says Bev Feather from Beckenham in Kent. "It doesn't work. What does is having one person in charge of staffroom tidiness for a week. Everyone else can be a slob - until it's their week."

PSR Pretty high, though just imagine how it'll all pile up if the duty tidier is off sick.

I'm just relieved...

I says Tony Mayhew from Debenham high school in Stowmarket. "I thought mine was the only school in the land that was suffering from a lack of domesticity." Join the club, Tony. Looks like there are hundreds of us.

So how did I solve my little problem? One of my classroom assistants said she'd love to do it - if I paid her a little more. I did, and our sink sparkles. I've another problem now, though. Our urn is so efficient the staffroom resembles a sauna when nobody turns it down. And apart from me and my deputy, nobody else bothers. Should I just wait until it fires itself into space and say to my staff. "There, told you so, no tea for you." Or is there another way? Over to you...

Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary school in south London. Email

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